Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Don't Stand Alone in These Strangest of Times

Last Friday morning, I was at karate camp. I woke up dead tired, because the night before that, we had taken all of the junior counselors to the midnight viewing of The Dark Knight Rises as a reward for doing a great job all week. Friday is the last day of camp, and all you do that day is pretty much get up, eat breakfast, pack up, and head for home. In my daze, I could hardly believe it when I heard a friend of mine say that they had their radio on 92.3 WTTS that morning and heard that in Aurora, Colorado, that a guy had started shooting everyone in the movie theater during Dark Knight Rises about five hours before that time.

First of all, I was shocked. I had been in Denver/Aurora, Colorado just a week before this. Literally, one week before. It was bizarre to think that I may have seen some of those victims just a week before.

As a teacher, I feel the responsibility to give some advice on how you might talk to your kids about this kind of thing. That having been said, I'm a little late on the upswing. I'm sure you've long since crossed that bridge.

But in this movie, Batman stops Catwoman from fighting crime using a gun. In fact, in the comic books, cartoons, and previous movies, Batman has always refused to use a gun to fight. You see, this fictional character's parents were shot before his very eyes. He knows this is no way to do anything. So if you're still hard-up for how to talk to your kids about this? Don't mention the fact that the man who killed all those people out in Colorado learned things from the Joker. Mention what he failed to learn from Batman. He was clearly one of the bad guys.

This was the work of a sick individual. Neither Christopher Nolan nor Christian Bale nor anyone else involved in this movie contributed to this dirtbag's actions in any way. Neither did society. This is a man who made bad decisions. These bad decisions caused other people to lose their lives, and for that, only one person is to blame.

Luckily, I am confident that your children will always follow Coach John Wooden's rule: "Consider the rights of others before your own feelings; consider the feelings of others before your own rights."

Thank you for raising children who won't cause this kind of mayhem. Lord save us from those who won't heed Wooden's words.

EDIT: Doggone it! Once again, someone went and put it much better than I did. I wish I had thought up and used this woman's words. Read and feel a little better.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Case of the Sharpened Minds

I'm sad to announce here the death of writer Donald Sobol. Many kids may find his name merely familiar, but when I tell you that he was the writer of Encyclopedia Brown, and perhaps more importantly to my class, the Two-Minute Mysteries, any child who has ever been in my class knows his work very well.

Sobol died last Wednesday in South Miami at the ripe age of 87.

Personally, one of the things I love about his mysteries, whether they be Encyclopedia Brown (slightly longer form) or Two-Minute Mysteries (shorter form) is the same thing I love about any episode of Law & Order. They all fall into the same cadence from episode to episode, mystery to mystery. We know this guy's guilty, but what little detail will Dr. Haledjian catch him on? What is the hole in the story?

Sobol's mysteries are rich with the regular characters (Dr. Haledjian, Inspector Winters, and Sheriff Monahan) as well as the recurring gang of ne'er-do-wells, tricksters, and thugs such as Cyril Makin, Mrs. Sydney, Octavia, Bertie Tilford, and the beloved Nick the Nose. I love reading these out loud to my classes. I love doing the voices, letting the kids try to guess (even some who never seem to figure out that the clue is actually something from the text, and not "why would a Russian guy ever go to the beach?"), and putting the bookmark back in the book even though the students are begging for just one more. I also love that, in order to solve about a half-dozen of them, you need to have a full working knowledge of Pullman trains.

Truly, I have no idea what Mr. Sobol would have thought if he had heard me read one of his mysteries out loud. I gave Dr. Haledjian a voice which probably comes from that of Robert Stack, Nick the Nose ("the greasy little informer") was from the Bronx, Mrs. Sydney's voice sounded like she'd been smoking since she was about ten, Inspector Winters talks like Batman, and Sheriff Monahan was every small-town sheriff you've ever seen on television.

He never knew it, but he has brought a sense of continuity to my classroom that permeates the whole school year, and then year to year after that. I'm at karate camp right now, which is always an interesting mix of people. But just a few minutes ago I went out to the lunch room and told each person who had been my student in the past (quite a few out there) about Sobol's death. The response was the same from each of them: "Oh, man! I used to love Two-Minute Mysteries!" We all did.

So long, Donald Sobol. So long, and thank you!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tragic Bataan

Have you ever been driving on Indiana State Highway 38 and wondered what the Bataan Memorial Highway is? I've always been curious since I was a little kid. I had never heard any bit of Indiana History that told me, but I had always assumed that it had to do with Indiana.

I'm ashamed to say that I had never heard of the Bataan Death March, which happened in the Philippines during World War II. Evidently, the Imperial Japanese Army forcibly moved thousands of prisoners to Balanga, the capital of Bataan. During this time, the Japanese soldiers would often beat or put their bayonets through prisoners who would fall behind because they couldn't walk. This outrage is part of what moved the United States into the mindset of joining the war. Of course, Pearl Harbor was the last straw.

As a memorial to those who died and suffered in this horrific event, memorial roads and bridges were designated in not only Indiana, but also Illinois, New Mexico, Ohio, Florida, Texas, Washington state, and Washington DC.

Now you know. Of course, you probably already knew--but now I'm glad to know for myself.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Monday, July 2, 2012

Into the Sunset

I realize it's late now, but I wanted to chime in that 75 years ago today, July 2, 1937, is the day that Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean. She had set off from Miami to completely circumnavigate the globe. They had landed in New Guinea, and when they left, it was rainy and cloudy. Ms. Earhart had said the following, "We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are traveling at one thousand feet."

An hour later, her final transmission was, "We are running north and south." She was never heard from again.

This is one of those many, many things from history that I wish we had time to talk about during the school year. In fact, I'm pretty sure I could teach nothing but history to fifth graders all school year and be happy as a clam.

I've been reading a lot this summer, and recently I've gotten into a history reading kick (I get into those from time to time.) Now I want to read about Ms. Earhart. But for now I have a couple books on the Manhattan Project that I'm itching to read. In fact, tomorrow I already know what I want to write about. As for now, pay respects to Amelia Earhart. She was a brave pioneer, a bold adventurer who didn't let the big boys get in her way. Bravo, Amelia!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

All I Need's a Fast Machine

The Indiana Historical Society recently put out one of my summer recommendations. This book is a grown-up book, not in the fact that it's inappropriate for kids; it's just that kids would find it boring.

Full disclosure here: I've never seen a Steve McQueen movie. But he's a Hoosier, and a formerly well-known one (and subject of a Sheryl Crow song), and since about halfway through this book, I've added The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, and Papillon to my Netflix queue.

This book was written by Wes Gehring, who is a film professor at Ball State, and talks about McQueen's troubled home life in Beech Grove and then his life in Hollywood. Brings a humanity to the face we've all seen, most more than me. But now I can't wait to catch a few retro films starring this famous Hoosier, even if he would have rather kept that part of his life in the past.